I recently came back from a trip in Prague, in the Czech Republic.
Due to some recent disasters in my life it was all a last minute thing and I decided as I had a bit of money kicking around my bank account to get away.
Unfortunately due to the rush I did not even have time to learn a few basic words, the best I had was a guide book, that spelt out how to pronounce words, however I did not want to use this incase I said them wrong.
In the Czech Republic the command of English is pretty good – it seems to be the default language, perhaps due to it being the main western language, but also because it seems to be the default second language for most countries.
Therefore you could encounter a person from France speaking with a person from Germany, speaking English to each other as they did not know the language.
To be honest I felt quite ashamed that I was not even capable of speaking a basic friendly greeting.
It also meant that I struggled to get by day-to-day as I struggled fully understanding street signs and find buildings.
I spent an hour looking for the Resistance Museum, and had to give in, finding it the next day on a completely different street.
Also as someone who enjoys writing about travelling I always like to listen out for what others around me are saying as this was always a source for good comedy.
There were many pleasures to be had when I traveled around North America.
I could always guarantee, there were be some fat, slow American tourist from somewhere like Oklahoma crying like a girl as they had not had the foresight to install air conditioning in the Arizona desert, or install an escalator along the side of the Canadian Rockies.
Surviving without knowing the home language is difficult, frustrating and a source of multiple embarrassments. Quite often I would express myself as being friendly by over exaggerating my smile.
This at times made me look quite dopey and simple, but it was my only way of getting across that I was being friendly.
I also maintained go eye contact so that I could pick up on non-english speakers body language so that I could understand their intentions.
This also was not totally ideal, as I maintained eye contact for too long it probably looked more like I wanted to kiss the person.
At times not understanding the language made me paranoid, as I assumed people were talking about me and it also meant I struggled to fully understand a different culture.
Due to having many experiences of travelling North America and living back in the UK, I have come accustomed to a certain style of customer service, which is almost fake and unnatural.
In the Czech Republic I found that service came off as more serious, perhaps even cold. They also seemed more laid back and took their time serving you.
At times I took this as a slight and wondered if I was being treated differently because I was a tourist, due to not having any command of the language I took some things the wrong way.
In one museum I got a bit too close examining the belt of a guards uniform, when English is not a language you are fluent in, unfortunately there is no polite way of telling someone there error, so it comes down to shouting to draw attention.
Obviously I do not blame people for not speaking my language – after all I have come to their country and in the past I have been quite critical of Brits coming into other people’s lands, being disrespectful and not knowing a word of the language.
If a positive came out of this, it has encouraged me to spend a bit of time developing my language skills. I got to an intermediate level speaking French, though this has died off due to lack of practice.
I did manage to read bits of an article in French on the way back and understand it – therefore I am going to look at picking my French back up.
Wherever I go abroad next, I will be more prepared with the language.